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Hoover Elementary Turns to LeapFrog SchoolHouse

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How do we teach students of widely varying abilities who are housedin the same classroom?

For the past 15 years, I have been principalLeapFrogat Hoover Elementary School,located in Calumet City, IL, a suburbof Chicago. At Hoover, we teach 630students in grades preK-5, and like manyschools in our area, we have been experiencingtremendous growth; in fact, since2000, enrollment has increased by onethird.This large influx of new students,coupled with a 64 percent mobility rate,creates some interesting challenges for ourdedicated teachers and staff.

The most difficult challenge toconquer is how to teach students of widelyvarying abilities who are all housed in thesame classroom. In addition, we arecontinuously trying to improve thereading skills of students across all gradelevels. We decided that a reading programthat utilized technology was a must for ourstudents who are captivated by computersand other technologies. We turned toLeapFrog SchoolHouse (LeapFrogEnterprises Inc; www.leapfrog.com) tomeet our needs.

Personalized Coaches

LeapFrog SchoolHouse creates books thatbecome interactive when used withLeapPad and Quantum Pad personallearning tools (PLTs). PLTs come equippedwith an electronic stylus and headphones;if students cannot pronounce a word, ordon’t know its meaning, they tap the wordwith the stylus and a personal audio“coach” sounds out the word and providesa definition through a speaker in the PLT.Pictures in the books are also interactive,bringing stories to life for our youngreaders. Our school has interactive bookson hundreds of subjects, from dinosaursand fairy tales to real-life adventures—alldesigned to capture the interest and theimagination of every student.

We use the interactive books and PLTsat least 30 minutes a day during ReadingCenter time, and studentresponse to using theproducts has beenuniversally positive. Forour slower readers,reading has become lessintimidating and laborious.The individualizedsupport afforded by theaudio feedback reduces achild’s embarrassment atnot knowing words. Ifnecessary, students canalso read from a lowerlevelbook without theirclassmates being aware.Our advanced readersuse higher-level booksthat include more challenging content.

These interactive books maximize theteachable moment by ensuring thatstudents are not learning words orconcepts incorrectly. Every teacher knowsthat it is more difficult to “un-teach”something that a student believes iscorrect. The interactive books also havehelped our school meet the achievementstandards outlined by No Child LeftBehind, as the products are closely alignedwith the Illinois Standards AchievementTests (ISAT). Last year, a fourth-gradespecial-education student was taking herISAT, looked up, and exclaimed in amazement:“I know this answer. I saw it on myLeapPad!”

Technology that D'esn’t Intimidate

Our teachers have different comfort levelswhen it comes to technology, but everyteacher was excited when LeapFrogSchoolHouse products arrived at HooverElementary. The PLTs and interactivebooks are not intimidating and requirelittle to no teacher or student instructionto be up-and-running. Furthermore,using the products takes minimal preparationtime. Teachers are also thrilled to haveextra “aides” in the classroom by way of thePLTs. They can spend more one-on-onetime with struggling students, knowingthat their other students are fully engaged,each following an individualized learningpath with the PLTs. The PLTs also assistteachers in instructing our EnglishLanguage Learners, by providing individualizedlanguage instruction.

As Hoover continues to serve a widerange of students with varying backgroundsand abilities, LeapFrogSchoolHouse has proved to be an importantasset in our mission to level theplaying field across all of our students,andprovide them with the best possibleeducational experience. We are excitedabout the progress they’ve made. Theseproducts have not just produced betterreaders; our students’ enthusiasm forlearning has also grown tremendously.

Gaetana Mollin has been the principal ofHoover Elementary School for the past15 years. She may be contacted atgmollin@mail.hsdist157.org.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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